Court trial for allegations of torture?
The news agency ATN Kharkiv reports that Yakov Strogan’s case is presently being examined by the Kievsky District Court in Kharkiv. Not, however, a case over Strogan’s allegations of abduction and torture by police officers, made from August 2010, including in parliament in December. Instead Strogan is facing charges of attempted murder over the initial incident with these only having been laid after his allegations received considerable publicity
In court there has been no mention of torture. Only the fact that a panel of judges is examining the case, not one judge, serves as indication that this is no mere domestic offence, but a widely publicized case.
The Kharkiv Human Rights Group and other human rights organizations have expressed serious concern over this case which bears all the hallmarks of police reprisals against a person who dared report police misconduct. The likely ramifications of the message which the prosecution and a conviction will give victims of torture and other police officers are truly frightening.
On 16 August 2010, one day after an argument and fight between Yakov Strogan and a neighbour, police officers from the Kievsky District Police Station in Kharkiv arrived at Strogan’s flat. It was 1 a.m. and Strogan refused to let them in. They tried to break down the door and cut off the flat’s electricity.
He let them in only at 6 a.m. and was immediately grabbed and taken first to a police unit, and then to the forest where he was beaten and subjected to various forms of torture, including the use of electric shocks and having ammonia poured down his nose and mouth. He was then kept incarcerated for four days while the officers tried to extort 10 thousand dollars from his wife. He was only released after he promised to try to find the money after his wife’s efforts proved fruitless.
From then on and consistently up till his arrest in December, Yakov Strogan spoke publicly of his ordeal and endeavoured to get a criminal investigation initiated. He was supported by KHPG whose lawyers are adamant that some of the details he describes could not have been invented. He also underwent a forensic examination which found bodily injuries of medium severity. Despite this, the Prosecutor’s Office found no grounds for beginning a criminal investigation.
Just over a week after repeating his allegations at parliamentary hearings on 1 December, Yakov Strogan was detained by officers from the same Kievsky District Police Station. Almost four months after a dispute which Strogan says was minor, and where the neighbour only hurt himself because he fell on broken glass, Yakov Strogan was arrested and accused of attempted murder. ATN reports that the wife of the alleged victim, Tatyana Marchenko cannot remember what Strogan was wearing but is sure that he was armed with a knife which he used against her husband. Profound scepticism on this score is surely substantiated by lack of any mention of a knife or other object in the original medical documents, not to mention the fact that the knife when “found” proved to have blood on it, but no fingerprints.
Despite the prolonged time period before the murder charges were laid, the public allegations preceding them, as well as the shocking state Strogan was in when brought to court on 11 December after a night held in custody by his alleged torturers, the judge saw no need to ask questions and remanded Yakov Strogan in custody. It would seem that the judges presently examining the case are equally loath to ask pertinent questions.
These questions must be asked since others, such as what it will mean for Ukraine if the police are given a carte blanche by the Prosecutor and the courts to commit crimes, torture and distort the course of justice with impunity, are purely rhetorical.
In the first half of March human rights organizations launched a nationwide appeal calling for the removal of Anatoly Mohylyov from his post as Minister of Internal Affairs. There were a number of specific concerns, but all reflect a disturbing increase in violence by police officers and deaths in police custody, as well as an overriding and flagrant disregard for fundamental human rights. Complaints about such violations fall on deaf ears within the Ministry, and neither the Prosecutor’s office nor the courts have proved willing to breach this wall of impunity.
The cautious hope expressed by some international organizations at the apparent breakthrough last week in the Gongadze case was that a message would be received by those in high places who believe they can violate the most fundamental rights, including that to life itself, with total impunity.
This same message is increasingly heard in Ukraine at the present time. It is resulting in human rights violations and poses the gravest threat to the rule of law here and now.